Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past

A Thanksgiving Dream by Effa Estelle Preston

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Hello everyone and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. Someone just beat up NaNoWriMo, so I can write a little bit about our favorite theatrical genre: really bad children’s plays based on American holidays. And we’re throwing in some Thanksgiving postcards, too.

We covered a lot of the origins of Thanksgiving in last year’s post. Basically, it’s an excuse to eat as much turkey as humanly possible and write internet articles about getting into a knife fight with relatives over you-know-who:

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Meanwhile, if you’re the president, you just go ahead and make stuff up.

Horrible Thanksgiving plays are a safer alternative to either one of these options. A Thanksgiving Dream may as well be a nightmare with all the madness going on here. The play was written by Effa Estelle Preston:

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Just like it says.

Let’s check out the characters:

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If we had Thanksgiving goblins when I was a kid, I may have actually liked the holiday.

Our hero Jack has just eaten “a dandy meal.”

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And like any normal kid from 1922, his dream is full of Pilgrim Maids.

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The maids have established that the Native Americans were their friends. But Fourth Pilgrim Maiden is a little psychopath:

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“I shot him as he ran away. They found him just outside.”

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The love that dare not speak its name. And the moon watching…

The play also neglects to tell us how Native Americans in the area obtained firearms prior ro the arrival of said Pilgrims.

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Fifth Pilgrim Maid is simply a watered-down version of the Fourth. Scaring people with “Jack-Lanterns.”

Massoit was totally a real person.

One advantage the Pilgrims had when they landed, was that they were greeted by a Native American who already spoke English, thus setting up their descendants to be too lazy to learn any foreign language forever.

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Probably Jack…the Ripper.

Some turkeys show up.

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They do have a point.

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OMG. The turkeys are gonna eat plump Jack!

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Again, they have a point.

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That’s a butterknife…

And then the goblins show up:

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Sorry, Jack. The damage has been done.

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Told you it was a nightmare.

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The goblins pinched him to death…

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A word to the wise: Don’t devour your friends!

This video has the original song (sorta) for Old Black Joe. For a song about a slave’s dying last words, it seems awfully happy:

 

And there you have A Thanksgiving Nightmare Dream.

But seriously, the absolute best part of the play is the list of available monologues on the back cover:

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As thrilling as Susan Gets Ready for Church sounds, as Hallmark Channel-ly I’m Engaged might be, as fun as Gladys Reviews the Dance obviously is, my money is on Ask Ouija when it comes to sheer wholesome entertainment.

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Effa Estelle Preston wrote a lot of plays. Normally, I’d list every single play, but she had at least 91 published playlets. Some of the highlights follow:

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From 1939.
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1930’s A Christmas Strike

 

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From 1937. Probably better than when my high school did Seinfeld sketches.
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The Fall Guy must be jealous. 1945
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Some light bondage at the North Pole.
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Random trivia: this exact building now houses one of my favorite newspapers.
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Not only was it popular,it was 454 pages long.

You can find several of Preston’s plays on archive.org and Gutenberg.org.

I couldn’t find out much about Ms. Preston, except she was born in 1884 in New Jersey and also died there at age 91 in 1975. She seems to have spent her working life as a public school teacher. On various census records, she’s listed as living with her mother, up to at least age 45. At one point she and her mother took in other female teachers as boarders. She doesn’t seem to have ever married. She did take a trip to France in 1929. I’d love to know more about her life.

In case you thought Thanksgiving plays were a thing of the past, we now give you this from like a week ago:

 

The antidote to the deluge of Thanksgiving plays might be The Thanksgiving Play by Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse. Here is Ms. FastHorse talking about her wonderful play:

 

 

 

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Thanksgiving plays: Madalene Barnum and Carolyn Wells

Just when you thought Halloween had a lock on goofy plays, Thanksgiving pops up with its own brand of bizarre. And we have TWO Thanksgiving plays. We have much to be thankful for.

For those readers who didn’t grow up in the US, Thanksgiving is a holiday that (according to pop culture) involves eating turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie, rolls and a bunch of other stuff. Actual Thanksgiving meals can involve other foods such as collard greens, black eyed peas, sweet potato pie. potato salad with paprika and even lasagna. Heck, I’ve even had Korean food at a Thanksgiving meal. And some people even deep fry a turkey, resulting in sadly hilarious Youtube videos.

Thanksgiving isn’t just celebrated in the US and Canada, but also in the West African nation of Liberia.

It really isn’t all that different from other harvest-oriented festivals around the world.

Thanksgiving activities stereotypically involve interacting with long-hated family members, watching American football, eating as much as possible and passing out in front of the TV.

Some Americans pretend to care about homeless people around this time. And they make popular Youtube videos about it.

All this is in commemoration of some colonizers who didn’t die right away, so they had a feast.

Sometimes American schools have/had a Thanksgiving pageant. I don’t remember a pageant, but I had to make that stupid little Pilgrim hat with the buckle.

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LAME.
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Much better. Buy yours today!

This is where the Thanksgiving plays come in. They would’ve been acted out by school kids across our great land.

The first play, from 1922, focuses on the harvest aspect of the holiday.

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I got it for free, and so can you.

This play starts off…well…

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The Goddess of Grain finally has her story told, after being a supporting player.
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Really digging the costume choices here.

Ceres and all the other immortals are just hanging out, complaining about how mortals aren’t really thankful. What’s the best way to fix that?

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Makes sense.

I particularly like that PEACE doesn’t know what a family is….because there is no peace on Thanksgiving bwahahah. PEACE seems like a leftover from the end of WWI.

Everything is in verse in this play. And there’s a bunch of songs set to tunes people actually knew back then. More of those later.

So PEACE and PLENTY run off and catch humans.

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Why can’t the son be a “degenerate, out of style blob”???

And Lord knows what the “best type of modern girlhood” entails.

The immortals interrogate the mortals about Thanksgiving. Here is a typical exchange between MOTHER EARTH and the MOTHER on Earth.

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Each human gives their response and everyone sings a song about it. Here is dear old GRANDPA…

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And the Thanksgiving Trio sing a song based on a song most Americans know as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” but is actually named “America” and using the melody from “God Save the Queen” and about 1,000 other songs.

One can only imagine how much better the play would’ve been with Franklin’s stirring voice.

This is all fine and good until the nameless, yet “efficient, sensible and pretty” GIRL teaches everyone the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

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So the brightest and kindest-hearted character is the GIRL. This is definitely a saving grace. And that is the play’s strongest aspect. We definitely need to learn how to give more than receive. I’d say a modern variation on that theme might make a suitable Thanksgiving play.

However, let’s go on a tangent about the air “My Maryland.”

TANGENT BEGINNING

This was the only video I could find without a Confederate flag. Why? This was a Confederate song that referred to Lincoln as a despot, called Northerners “scum” and had the phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” – the same phrase that actor from Maryland used right after he shot Lincoln. You can read all about it on the Wikihole.

So what did the brave lawmakers in Maryland do when they woke up in 2018 and realized they had the song of a bunch of traitors who got their asses beat 153 years before? Only the most limpdicked thing possible.

And “O Tannenbaum” is forever ruined by this.

TANGENT OVER

The play basically ends with everyone saying “What an awesome girl!”

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Thanksgiving Pageant from 1914. Note lack of Pilgrims and abundance of child-sized veggies. From here.

The play’s author, Carolyn Wells, was indeed quite popular for the time, writing more than 170 books, specializing in mysteries. She also married the heir to the Houghton-Mifflin publishing firm.

*Note to self: Marry heir to Samuel French publishing firm. Write 170 plays.

Please don’t judge her on the silliness of this Thanksgiving play. Instead, feel free to judge this accomplished woman based off of her vast, vast work.

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She even serialized her work in the famed Argosy magazine. My new goal is to re-add “fascination” to the mystery suspense genre.

Links to work by and about her will appear at the end.

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Judge her for her hat. Via here.

 

Now for the second part of our play-a-thon.

The First Thanksgiving Day from 1907, written by Madalene Barnum, is hilarious. It appears in A Book of Plays for Little Actors

The plot is pretty simple. It’s 1621 and the one-year anniversary of the Pilgrims totally not dying is coming up. The Pilgrims invite the local Native Americans over for a party. They use a Native American, Squanto, as interpreter.

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The play neglects to mention that the real Squanto spoke English because he’d been kidnapped to England years before.

Americans to this day continue the tradition of just showing up someplace and not bothering with the language.

The Pilgrims properly prepare for their party –

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Clams for Thanksgiving! YESSS!
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Myles Standish, badass.

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As usual, women get the drudgery work.

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The women don’t get to shoot stuff, but also they don’t have the humiliation of simply saying “Bang! Bang!” in the woods.

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Mary, Priscilla, Mrs. White – to the ovens!! Mrs. White is impressed by Standish’s huge…turkeys.

And the Native Americans show up, ostensibly speaking a real language.

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Well, Elder, there’s no football on the tube…

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Should’ve thought of that before everyone said “Yes, yes!”. Sigh.

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PLEASE, GOD, NO!

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White men are good at war stuff. Got it.

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Don’t listen to them, Squanto! Poor Squanto cannot distinguish between a cannon and thunder.

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Good-by really strange play from 1907!

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Thanksgiving pageant, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1904. Probably not much different than our play.

Madalene Barnum didn’t quite have the career Wells did. She was born in 1874, but I haven’t found a death date for her. I doubt she’s 144 years old.

Her career included educational books and plays.

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She co-authored this sexy tome in 1911.
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You can buy this.

At the time she wrote this, she was an English teacher at the Brooklyn Training School for Teachers.

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Holy crap, she got a play with Samue French!

It’s obvious these writers were going for what was popular and acceptable by the dominant society at the time. And they appear to have succeeded.

What should be in a modern Thanksgiving play??

For a list of all our playwrights, please check here.

Before we leave you, I’d like to add a video which is kinda related to today’s topic, but it is an important one. And she’s funny.

 

And here is the link dump:

The plays

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

The First Thanksgiving Day, right here

The authors

Madalene Barnum at archive.org

And more!

Carolyn Wells at Wikipedia,

Wells at Britannica. And Poetry Foundation.

Works at Gutenberg.org

Works at archive.org

Wikisource

Review and bio on a blog

Fantastic Fiction.

Another overview

Another book review on a blog. The comments are vicious.